gif: fury road

Honestly you know what the appeal if of Pacific Rim and Fury Road? They’re both over-the-top apocalypse action movies that are built around the idea that when the end of the world comes, no single person will be able to take it on alone. Everyone’s skills and experiences will be needed, and being able to work together and put your faith in other people will be the best way to survive. That’s just… such a genuinely neat and good idea, and we need more of it.

Honestly my favourite scene in Fury Road is the first trip through the canyon, when Max and Furiosa complete the transition from enemy to uneasy allies to being a well-oiled machine: back to back, perfectly synchronised, strangers and yet so completely in tune with each other, with -survival- that they don’t even need words.

It just says -so- much about them, about who they are, how their lives have been shaped by navigating survival, how they understand what they need to do, how limited their choices are, how to make the most of those. They don’t need to talk because they’re both performing the same calculations of what needs to be done to maximise the chances of their survival, and they’re looking at the same result.

And in the middle of that, is the war rig, bathing in sand and breathing as Furiosa tends it, whilst Max now has her blessing to drive it.

This film, guys. This. Film.

“Remember Me”vs. “Witness Me”

I was thinking about Furiosa’s last (and only) words to Immortan Joe: “Remember me.”

That line’s always kind of puzzled me. Is it a challenge? A rhetorical question? A “fuck you”? A reckoning?  All of the above? I mean, it’s no doubt a pretty badass thing to growl at the tyrant who abducted and enslaved you right before you tear his face off, but I started thinking about its similarities to another of Fury Road’s Arc Words: “Witness me.”

When you’re a War Boy, your body is an expendable, broken-down machine, your torturous half-life spent waiting for the ultimate self-sacrificing high; the best you can hope for is a spectacular death, for that death to be “witnessed.” The worst thing you can hear is the scoff of “mediocre”: your life, you thought, was building to this moment; you cast yourself on the pyre of blood and chrome with hopes of eternal glory; you gave up everything, and it wasn’t enough. Your half-life (and afterlife) hinges on the moment of your death, and how well it served your god-king.

Now, let’s look at the Vuvalini’s death-rite. You know the one.

In contrast to the War Boy’s bombastic cry of “Witness!”, this action is quiet, a silent promise to remember, to write the names of the lost on one’s heart. This is not a weakness- the Vuvalini are nothing if not resourceful and resilient, despite the tragedies that have befallen their once-prosperous clan. 

But those they lost are never forgotten- who they were is more important than how they died. Thematically, this healthy and compassionate culture of remembrance contrasts with Max and his frequent visions of “those I could not protect.” 

Memory is a theme that is especially present in Fury Road, and yet it’s the aspect of the film’s thematic gamut that I see least discussed. Mad Max as a whole takes place in a sort of limbic time warp. How long ago were these disasters? The oil shortages, the flying nukes, the water wars? Fury Road might take place two decades or two centuries after this cataclysm. Even people who grew to adulthood in the old world, like Max and the Vuvalini are implied to, have foggy, off-kilter memories of those times (”Everyone had a show…”), that seem more like secondhand myths than actual recollection. The old world has passed into legend and superstition even to those who lived in it.

The remnants and parphenalia of the pre-apocalypse and their use in the post- is a major cornerstone of Mad Max’s aesthetic, and even in this, there is a clear thematic distinction between how these trappings manifest between groups. The Buzzards, for instance, seemingly lacking even the demented ingenuity of Immortan Joe’s rev-heads, merely scavenge the past, cannibalizing it into a shape that is feral, ungainly, and myopic.

Immortan Joe’s empire is a blood-soaked engine whose organic components are reduced to their function- whatever it is that they can do or give to benefit Joe, whether it be milk, blood, or children. It’s no wonder the War Boys’ fetishize and worship of technology. They regard their own diseased, “half-life” bodies as inferior to the vehicles they’re obsessed with- strong and solid and never-tiring.  Indeed their doctor is even called “the Organic Mechanic” and they bear circuit-like engine-tattoos and ceremonial chrome mouth-spray-paint to imitate the mighty machines they worship and envy. 

The accoutrements of the past are used as symbols of power, or else hoarded away, as in the vault-like chamber where Joe keep his wives and other “treasures.”

The Vuvalini (and to a wider extent, the women of Fury Road), are the keepers of memory and hope. Their way is not fetishization, but preservation. From the bag of seeds to their extensive clan and familial history, the Many Mothers have a rich and vital store of knowledge and culture.  And, of course, lets not forget Ms. Giddy, the History Woman, literally the physical embodiment of knowledge, her body a living record.

So back to Furiosa, who herself has gone on a journey from being trapped in the depths of the War Boy culture to reconnecting with her past and, like Max, relearning how to connect with people, to move beyond the instincts of survival. In the moment of her confrontation with Joe astride his Gigahorse (incidentally the first, last, and only time in the entire film that Joe comes truly face-to-face with either of our protagonists), Furiosa sums up her entire journey, not just in the film, but over the course of her entire life, in those two words, before literally, figuratively, and gruesomely ripping the mask off the false god and spelling an end to his horrific ideology. From this perspective, “Remember me” is a powerful statement, the mantra of the society that Furiosa, the Vuvalini, and the no-longer-Wives will build, where people are more than their “usefulness”; where the past has lessons to teach, not just trappings of power to grant; where those you’ve lost do not become spectres, but immortalized in memory.

In the fires of armageddon, one ideology says that you are infinitesimal, expendable, that the world will not miss you, is not capable of missing you. The other promises that there is more to you than your base instincts of survival or your “function” in a harsh and violent world; that your name will be remembered; that those who survive you will not forget. 

5

Went to see Mad Max: Black and Chrome last night and fucking hell……as if I needed another reminder why this was one of the most perfect pieces of cinema I have ever witnessed.

It might seem pointless but in black and white, it really brought focus to all the little details that might have been missed or lost in the intesity of the full colour version.

2

The beauty of the Mad Max game is it expands the mythos of some of the clans that didn’t really get explained in the movie.  For example the Buzzards are essentially C.H.U.D.s that live underground and only scavenge at night, and are cannibals.  In the movie you see them attacking in daylight so it’s not really meshing with their background, but in the game you have to go to underlit caverns to deal with the red eyed devils, and it’s pretty cool.  They’re essentially demonic Tuskan Raiders.